Clearview AI provides facial recognition services to law enforcement agencies across the United States, but its controversial business has just resulted in it being hit with a lawsuit.

The lawsuit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois, alleges Clearview’s technology runs afoul of the 2008 Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act.

In February Clearview AI admitted that its database, containing the images of billions of people had been stolen.

Controversial business

Clearview AI is a facial recognition company that developed technology to match faces to a database of more than three billion faces indexed from Internet social media websites and other sources such as Twitter, YouTube, Google and Facebook.

This policy has angered some social networking firms.

In January this year for example Twitter demanded that Clearview delete all the images it had pulled from its platform, and stop all photo collection going forward.

Google and Facebook have also filed cease-and-desist letters.

And the privacy implications have been noted by US lawmakers.

Senator Edward J Markey for example has previously tweeted that Clearview’s facial recognition technology “poses chilling privacy risks”.

Most of Clearview AI customers are US law enforcement agencies who use its facial-recognition software to identify suspects.

But New Jersey in January implemented a statewide ban on law enforcement using Clearview while it looks into the software. Vermont’s attorney general has also filed a lawsuit against Clearview for alleged data privacy violations.

ACLU lawsuit

But now CNN reported that ACLU alleges in its complaint that the company is engaging in “unlawful, privacy-destroying surveillance activities.”

The ACLU reportedly said in the complaint that it is bringing the suit “to put a stop to its unlawful surreptitious capture and storage of millions of Illinoisans’ sensitive biometric identifiers.”

It is reported that a number of other non-profits, including the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation and Sex Workers Outreach Project Chicago, have also signed onto the suit.

Clearview AI reportedly dismissed the ACLU complaint as “absurd” when asked for comment by CNN.

“Clearview AI is a search engine that uses only publicly available images accessible on the internet,” Clearview AI’s attorney, Tor Ekeland, told CNN Business in an emailed statement. “It is absurd that the ACLU wants to censor which search engines people can use to access public information on the internet. The First Amendment forbids this.”

“Clearview AI is one if the most innovative, effective and accurate law enforcement tools in the market,” Ekeland, the company’s lawyer, said in an email. “Not only does it protect victims by helping law enforcement apprehend child rapists, murderers and thieves, its accuracy protects the innocent from being falsely accused – all by simply using public images available to everyone on the public internet.”

Ekeland added that Clearview operates in “strict accordance with the US Constitution and American law.” He said Clearview works similarly to other search engines, and claimed it collects less data than some other online companies.

He said that “Clearview AI only collects public images and their web addresses. That’s all.”

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Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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